Power Tool: Creativity Vs. Conformity

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By: Melinda Stettler

Leadership Coach, Hungary

Creativity is something that seems to be a desired and most welcomed trait in our days. Our world changing fast and creativity is a friend of change. In a recent global survey of approximately 1600 CEO’s, the leadership trait that was considered to be most crucial for success was creativity (1). This suggests that the world of business is beginning to accept that creativity is a value in a diversity of industries, (in engineering, accounting as creative problem solving) rather than being simply the preserve of the creative industries. As the definition, creativity refers to the phenomenon whereby a person creates something new (a product, a solution, a work of art, a novel, a joke, etc.) that has some kind of value. What counts as “new” may be in reference to the individual creator, or to the society or domain within which the novelty occurs, and what is “valuable” is similarly defined in a variety of ways

May be for the safety reason conformity is received better as creativity on the individual level and on the micro society level. We experience many examples where it is more awarded and encouraged than creativity, even though the world of business recognizes the outcome of creativity. By definition, conformity is the act of matching attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors to what individuals perceive is normal to their society or social group. People often conform for self-security reasons within a group. Conformity influences formation and maintenance of social norms, and helps societies function smoothly and predictably. In this sense it can be perceived as a positive force that prevents acts that are perceptually disruptive or dangerous. Letting the ambulance go first on the roads could be seen as beneficial conformity.

Surely both have its place, but from the individual personal growth perspective creativity is crucial.

By nature, humans are creative beings. We have a natural tendency towards curiosity that allows us to reach our creative energy (asking questions, solving problems and trying new things). Every time we follow our curiosity and try something new, we spark our creative genius. We express ourselves. We create.

When we are practicing creativity we become a grounded individual, creativity involves the art of listening to the heart. According to Julia Cameron, what we think of as neurosis is actually blocked creativity. When people begin living in their creativity, the “neurosis” disappears. We may be not a neurotic culture; but a more a stifled culture, needing to express the self. We’ve forgotten who we are we have forgotten we are gifted. We have been made to feel we are not gifted: we have an enormous mythology that creativity belongs to the elite few.

When we are at the state we can’t express ourselves, we conforming too much, playing a roll too much and forget who we are, it affects many part of our life.

Case study:

There was a moment when Mike stopped and suddenly realized that he lost his sense of humor. How could it happen? He was well known to cheer up people and helping stalled situations out with his jokes. He felt that he lost something that was very deeply his own, part of his personality.

Lately he changed his work and worked very hard in his new role. He knew that it wouldn’t be easy so he accepted to be patient with himself and worked hard. He hardly noticed the world around him, he was sitting at his desk and answered for emails and calls, if not than he sat at meetings. With his new role he received so many requests and tasks to do that he couldn’t go further. He knew that it was not the way he should have performed. He started to prioritize and assess all the task he should do daily, weekly and monthly. He was surprised that he was facing a 2 men job, and it didn’t matter how hard he tried he wouldn’t fulfill all the requirements. He decided to do 2 things. The first was to talk with his boss and ask direction and help at the same time he would practice to “say no” more than before. Both trials brought him criticisms, hard criticisms about his capability. He started to lose control, he decided to prove himself competent and worked even harder.

Than this moment of astonishment came he lost his sense of humor. He gave up and started to think what had happened with him. He discovered more changes around and inside of him. He realized that he was so tired when he got home that they lived together but not with each other with his wife. They didn’t share thoughts, only managed their household. He also realized that he spent limited hours with his friends also he knew himself as a “party man” before and knew that friends brought him joy. His life was bleak, there was no fulfillment. As he went further on thinking how his life changed and how he behaved in this new situation, he saw himself how he was solving problems and it surprised him. He was so much overwhelmed, that he would ask from his subordinates when a problem was raised “How did you solve this before?” He realized that he was not creative at all in his work, although in the past he was proud of being very creative in problem solving.

He came to the conclusion that he had to change. This situation was not serving him anymore. He had to find out what was serving him and what wasn’t but first he had to find out how he should change for his own sake.

With a help of a coach he went through a little transition. First he got enough sleep. It was hard to get used to this new habits because he felt he was losing his private time. But after 2 weeks he had more energy from sleep and he used this energy to be more conscious and stopped many times during his workday. When he stopped, he asked himself if this was necessary to do. With this control he had the power to say no with deep reasoning and his colleagues started to accept him. With this take away after a couple of months he could free himself from work and went to do some exercises, 2 times a week and once to have an evening out with his wife. He prioritized and he decided to meet friends not so often than he did before but spending more of his weekends for self-recovery. After 6 months of self-care he noticed that he was joking to himself again. He felt released. Also he noticed that he was not automatically asking back about the company well known answers for problems but stopped for a moment and tried to find out if there were any places for change, for the new.

Although he needed energy to free out himself from the creativity block and he had new ideas very soon he realized that this company culture is not supporting any deviation from its common way of doing and he know that this level of conformity is too much for him.

It prevents him from his personal wellbeing and growth. So decided to look for another job in a different culture and he knew clearly what he was looking for after what he had learnt about himself.

Tools and technics that helps being in our Creative Mode.

Being creative we need energy, energy for life. The first thing that we have to do is self-care, as it was shown in the case study. In many cases it doesn’t only mean to sleep enough, eat well and treat our body with respect but also means to reduce stress. The stress may come from different sources. The coach can help to discover it and build up the necessary skills to deal with it. If it comes from anxiety the coach helps the client to be more in the present. Stress and pressure also can come from strong goal settings, but focusing only on the next couple of tasks helps to reduce it. Stress is a very difficult factor that drains us out and it highly affects our creativity.

The next step is when we have energy for creativity but somehow it doesn’t work.  In the Wallas stage model, (2) creative insights and illuminations may be explained by a process consisting of 5 stages: